News 13 Investigates: Death of Bryson City police dog
A K-9 officer can cost more than $10,000. Bryson City gone one for free from a nonprofit that gives dogs to departments that cannot afford to buy one. However, not only does Bryson City no longer have Kanon, he's no longer alive.
About a year ago Bryson City police got Kanon.
"Every law enforcement agency should have a K-9, at least one," Bryson City Police Chief Greg Jones said.
Kanon didn't last long.
The donation agreement said Kanon's handler was supposed to be officer Chris Dudley, but when Kanon died he was with someone else.
The town manager said Kanon acted aggressively toward Dudley's other dog, which is why they got a new handler. Jones said otherwise.
When asked if Dudley's dog and Kanon had an issue, Jones responded, "I don't know of one."
That's not the only discrepancy. On the application, Bryson City wrote it had a budget for Kanon and approval from local government. Jones admits those things weren't true.
"I had not even approached anyone about permission to do this," Jones said.
Jones said the department wanted Kanon to replace K-9 Mikey, whom Dudley was going to retire, but then didn't. Jones said that's why the department sought a new handler for Kanon.
"Well, who's going to handle Kanon? Fowler said 'I'll handle him.' Are you sure? This is what it's gonna take," Jones said, recalling the conversation with Jeffrey Fowler.
Jones said Kanon ended up with Fowler, who was hired as a police officer candidate.
Soon after getting Kanon, Fowler was taken off the payroll and put on inactive status. Jones said Fowler had trouble getting certified as an officer from the state. He called it a paperwork glitch.
"With the personnel shortages I had here, I had to remove him from the payroll in order to hire somebody else. He was still, for lack of a better word, a reserve candidate with us," Jones said.
Town leaders didn't initially know police had Kanon or that he ended up with someone who wasn't even on the city's payroll, let alone a police officer.
Throw Away Dogs Project
News 13 traveled to Philadelphia to try to get more answers. It's where the nonprofit that donated Kanon is based.
Carol Skaziak runs Throw Away Dogs Project, which takes rescues, trains them and donates them to police departments in need K-9s.
"It's a pretty amazing feeling," said Skaziak, who has donated 27 dogs.
News 13 asked how many have died.
"One," she answered.
In mid-March, Skaziak got the news about Kanon.
"I had extreme sadness. I wasn't angry at first. I was sad," Skaziak said.
What happened to Kanon?
"I was saddened greatly. I was angry, and I felt like I lost part of my family," Jones said.
Jones said he had Kanon cremated.
"I wanted to get him situated. There was nothing I could do to bring him back, and, maybe, I was mad about that. But I can't sit here and try to explain to you exactly what I was feeling or doing or trying to do at that moment, because everything was just moving," Jones said.
Skaziak said Jones' actions were inappropriate.
"That is absolutely ridiculous and disrespectful of how you would supposedly treat a police officer's body," Skaziak said.
Jones said he thinks Kanon, who was chewing on his doghouse in his kennel, died from choking on the plastic.
"I'm just going to be honest with you. I didn't think about an autopsy," Jones said. "He wasn't killed. He passed away. I know a lot of people are saying that we killed this dog. That is absolutely ridiculous to the point of making me really angry."
But Skaziak disagrees.
"In my gut, he absolutely did not die of an accident," Skaziak said.
Because officials didn't have a necropsy done, they can't prove why Kanon died. People have drawn their own conclusions on social media and Jones wanted to respond to them.
"Look, you can call me anything you want to. You call me a dog killer, and we're going to go out in the damn parking lot and fight and that's just as plain as I can put it," Jones said.
"I think Chief Jones is extremely unprofessional. He doesn't deserve to be in the position he's in," Skaziak said.
The police weren't using Kanon as a K-9 officer because Jones said the dog wasn't ready.
Skaziak said Kanon was.
Jones said he still considered the dog to be part of the department.
"He wasn't a police dog, but he was a police dog," Jones said.
However Kanon died, Jones said he trusts Fowler.
"He can work here as long as he wants to, as far as I'm concerned. I don't have any issue with Mr. Fowler," Jones said.
Skaziak was not happy to hear that Fowler is a Bryson City police officer.
"That's a shame. I have never met a department that was so pathetic. That's the word. Pathetic," Skaziak said.
Fowler's personnel record shows he returned to the department in September. City officials denied a request to interview him.
Dudley resigned from the police department on June 21. The next day, the Swain County Sheriff's Office announced it had hired Dudley as a school resource officer.
The district attorney recently referred Kanon's death to the State Bureau of Investigation. DA Ashley Welch said the SBI declined to investigate, because they found it unlikely a provable crime occurred.